Town Toolkit | Engage through art
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Engage through art

It’s simple: ask artists to engage the local community. It's in artists’ DNA to communicate, so their creativity and energy is a great way of engaging people and communities in their town centre. And if they're local, they'll already know lots of people, which is just what you want to get more folk into your town centre.

Courtesy: The Stove Network

The Stove, Dumfries

The Stove is a civic and community centre run by artists, involving locals in the thinking and making of their town.

It’s a network. It’s a social enterprise. But it’s not a ‘fluffy’ organisation for the few: it turns over £0.5m per year and employs 30 local people, 75% of them aged under 30.

Since 2015, The Stove has had a physical presence in the town centre: a former shop on the High Street, now a community café with music and events. Having that safe and inclusive space has provided a place for conversations to happen, ideas to develop and confidence to build. People can see things happening.

evening event (image courtesy of The Stove Network)
evening event (image courtesy of The Stove Network)

The Stove has produced lots of events since it began in 2011 with a steady events programme to keep people coming into town all year round. For example, the Nithraid is Dumfries’ annual River Festival, attracting 3000 folk; and the annual music conference brings people from across the music industry and offers a range of musical events.

This wealth of activity has even led to community-led property development, in the form of the Midsteeple Project - an ambitious redevelopment of derelict and underused historic buildings in the heart of the town centre.

All this came from artists engaging creatively with their community about the future of the town!

For more information on Dumfries, check out the Inspiration section.

Deveron Projects, Huntly

Deveron Projects has been active in the rural market town of Huntly, Aberdeenshire since 1995, running lots of projects to bring artists, thinkers and other creatives together with the Huntly community. They have explored a diverse range of project areas, spanning from gender and parenthood to current politics, place-making through walking, traditional industries, food culture and climate change, to name a few.

The Town is the Venue describes the framework in which they work and contribute to the social wellbeing of our town, inspired and influenced by the Aberdeenshire-born father of town planning, Patrick Geddes. Huntly itself becomes studio, gallery and stage for artists of all disciplines from all over the world.

Funded by the Climate Challenge Fund, The Town is the Garden is a long-term project looking at ways to encourage more community food growing, reducing waste, sharing skills and reconnecting with the natural ecosystems of which we and our town are a part. The project engages critically with the interrelated climate crises we are facing and promotes free access to edible plants throughout the town, helping green the streets as part of a push to regenerate the town centre.

market on town square (image courtesy of Deveron Projects)
market on town square (image courtesy of Deveron Projects)

Many towns across the UK are struggling to keep their squares and high streets functioning as centres for shopping, and this can be seen in Huntly with key businesses closing and leaving behind empty premises. In projects over the last few years, the town has been exploring alternatives to traditional retail-based economies. This includes the Town is the Garden Barter Shop, where citizens can swap locally grown produce and preserves for a recipe, skill, or even a story, and vice versa.

For Deveron Projects, creativity and collaboration are essential. You have to approach problems playfully; have the freedom to test out different ideas and develop the solutions that hadn’t yet been thought of - whether you’re an arts organisation, a town council or a gardener. You might not all agree all of the time, but the conversations that will be stimulated will edge you closer to the ideas that might really change things for the better.

For more information on Huntly, check out the Inspiration section.

Findhorn Bay Arts

The closure of the Royal Air Force base in Kinloss in 2011, which had been in operation since the 1930s, was a big blow to the Moray economy. Partly in response, Findhorn Bay Arts was established in 2012 following a series of open meetings and discussions involving local artists and residents.

Based in Forres and Findhorn, Findhorn Bay Arts is a social enterprise and charity which is passionate about promoting this beautiful part of Scotland as a place for outstanding arts through the delivery of high quality arts events and projects.

Their signature event, the biennial Findhorn Bay Festival, is a spectacular celebration of arts and culture showcasing exceptional artists, all set in unexpected places and scenic locations. As well as putting on the Festival, Findhorn Bay Arts produce year-round creative community events, education, outreach, volunteering and networking events making quality creative activities accessible across the region.

Projects include Culture Day Forres, the biennial Findhorn Bay Festival, the Culture Café, CashBack for Communities project In the Mix– all of which have a common aim of showcasing and nurturing the creativity of the area’s residents, whilst attracting high quality artists and productions to the area. During the first COVID-19 lockdown, a new popup shop called The Bakehouse was created on Forres High Street to sell local fruit, veg and bread with music and street art – a partnership between local growers, artists and musicians that created a real buzz. Other businesses welcomed the initiative as it has increased footfall and activity on the high street.

The organisation has a small dedicated team of staff and board members, backed up by volunteers, artists and residents. Funding is always tricky – especially the challenge of securing core funding – but responding to opportunities and working in partnership has enabled them to tap into project support from Creative Scotland’s Creative Place Awards, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Moray Youth Arts Hub.

Made in Stirling

Made in Stirling is a creative hub for the local arts sector: a showcase, shop and venue in a former empty shop unit in the very heart of the town centre. It started life as a pop-up project, moving around six times before it found its permanent home at 44 King Street. Their reputation grew with each move, and they have now supported over 150 local artists, designers and makers.

The hub was set up by Creative Stirling, which supports grassroots creativity in Stirling through a range of initiatives, including Made in Stirling. They work closely with the artists and creatives in the collective to find new audiences for their work and accelerate sales, offering advice on everything from display to pricing and ways to diversify and promote new products. Not everyone needs help, but the aim is to support every artist and maker reach their full potential.

shop and showcase (image courtesy of Made in Stirling)
shop and showcase (image courtesy of Made in Stirling)

The ‘show & sell’ hub at 44 King Street stocks a beautiful, unique and fun range of ceramics and jewellery through to food products, photography and fine art shipped locally and worldwide. It is also more than a shop and a showcase for local artists: it hosts workshops for adults and children, events spaces for hire, exhibitions, workspaces and pods for creative start-ups.

Read more information about Creative Stirling on the Scotland’s Towns Partnership blog here. You can contact both Creative Stirling and Made In Stirling direct through this email address: enquiries@creativestirling.org.

Other examples to look at